During the invasion of Iwo Jima and the assault on Mount Suribachi, a Marine Corps Reserve infantryman and paratrooper carried his weapon — an ANM2 aircraft machine gun capable of firing 1200-1500 rounds per minute — onto the beaches and used it to devastate Japanese pillboxes even though it was shot from his hands…twice.
Marine Cpl. Tony Stein’s family later received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.
After the short-lived Marine Parachute Regiment was disbanded, Stein was assigned to the 5th Marine Division and sent to Iwo Jima. Marines in his unit came across a crashed SBD Dauntless dive bomber, a plane known for its slow speed but deadly armament. It’s pilots racked up an impressive 3.2-1 air-to-air kill ratio in the bomber.
The Dauntless’s lethal bite came from its ANM2 aircraft machine guns, .30-caliber weapons based on the M1919 light machine gun. The aircraft version was lighter and fired approximately three times as fast as the standard M1919. A unit armorer enlisted Stein’s help in adding buttstocks, bipods, and sights to the weapon.
The weapons were fitted with 100-round ammo belts carried in aluminum boxes, meaning the weapon could unleash hell for about five seconds at a time.
When the Marines landed at Iwo Jima, Stein pressed forward to where the fighting was hottest and placed carefully aimed bursts into Japanese pillboxes, usually by charging them alone and firing at close ranges against the crews inside.
Of course, with only five seconds or less of fire per ammo belt, he quickly ran dry. He threw off his shoes and helmet for speed and made running trips back and forth to the beach carrying wounded Marines down to aid and bringing ammo belts back. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he made at least eight trips that day.
During the fighting, the Stinger was shot from Stein’s hands twice. But he simply picked the weapon back up each time and kept fighting.
The Marines pushed farther forward than they could hold. When the unit was ordered to withdraw, Stein covered the movement with the Stinger.
As the invasion continued, Stein was wounded on the famous Mount Suribachi and evacuated to a hospital ship. When the regiment took additional casualties, Stein slipped off of the hospital ship and joined his unit once again.
He was with his company when it was pinned down by a Japanese machine gunner on March 1. Stein led the movement to find and destroy it but was shot by a sniper in the attempt. A Medal of Honor for Stein’s actions on the beach of Iwo Jima was presented to his widow in 1946.
The Air Force is now aged well into its seventies and the branch that started as an offshoot of the U.S. Army is looking at having a child of its own — the U.S. Space Force. Even though the mere need for the U.S. Air Force is one that is still debated in some circles, it’s pretty safe to say the service is here to stay, and for good reason. The men, women, and aircraft of the U.S. Air Force have accomplished some of the most incredible feats in military history.
When you look back at the legacy of the USAF, there are so many important, pivotal events that either established the Air Force as one to be reckoned with, cemented the legendary status of some great American heroes, or made the difference when it was needed the most. There’s a reason these moments will live forever in our collective imagination. Like the mythological tales of great heroes setting out to impress the gods, these are the Air Force’s finest moments.
You have to admit, it’s ballsy to go into combat in a rig made of canvas and popsicle sticks.
(U.S. Air Force)
1. The St. Mihiel Offensive – World War I
For four years, the St. Mihiel Salient was a giant bulge in the lines of the Western Front. In 1914, the German Army managed to create a 250-square mile indentation on the front while trying to capture the fortress at Verdun. When the United States joined World War I in 1918, General John J. Pershing demanded an area of the front that was exclusively the responsibility of American forces. He got it.
An important aspect of that battle was the air war over St. Mihiel, the largest air battle of the entire war. 1,476 allied aircraft took on 500 German aircraft over four days in September 1918. The First U.S. Army Air Service took command of air elements from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Portugal. Combined force air power destroyed enemy aviation, achieved complete air superiority, and aided ground forces while denying enemy air reconnaissance assets.
From the USAF’s raid on the Ploesti Airfields in Romania.
(U.S. Air Force)
2. World War II
An essential element to early Nazi successes in World War II relied on the new tactic of blitzkrieg, which required large but very fast movements of concentrated forces and massive air firepower. Before entering the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces saw the importance of air power in the skies over London and were shown that power in force at Pearl Harbor. After entering the war, the Air Forces were tasked with gaining air superiority, crushing the Germans’ ability to wage war, and prepare Fortress Europe for an allied invasion.
During World War II, being on a bomber crew was deadlier than even landing on the beaches of the Pacific with the U.S. Marines. As the war came home to Germany, the Air Force only stepped up the intensity of the bombing campaign while proving that American airmen and technology were more than a match for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the Nazi air forces struggled to put up a fight as fuel, pilots, and ammunition were in such short supply against the overwhelming air power of the USAAF.
In the Pacific theater, the Air Force immediately brought the pain as fast as they could after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid started out the war with Japan by reminding them that they weren’t out of the United States’ long reach. The Air Force fought alongside the Navy in as many pitched air battles as were needed, but the real strength of the Air Force came at the end of the Navy and Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign. As air bases were set up closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, Army Air Forces bombers pummeled mainland Japan with firebombs, crippling Japanese industry until two days in August 1945 changed the world forever: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Pacific War for good.
In all your life, you’ll never be this cool.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. The Tuskegee Airmen – World War II
In the days before the integration of the Armed Forces, African-Americans served primarily in support roles, and usually as enlisted men. That all changed in the lead up to World War II when President Roosevelt ordered the Army to begin training black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field – in the heart of the segregated South. It was a time when Americans widely believed that black people could not be trained to use advanced technological equipment, especially aircraft.
Not only were the college-educated Tuskegee Airmen able to fly and operate aviation technology, they were really, really good at it. Tuskegee Airmen flew some 15,000 sorties in the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II, risking their lives and the reputation of their entire race on their performance. Their success rate on bomber escort missions was twice as high as other groups in the 15th Air Force and, over the course of the war, they took down hundreds of enemy planes, thousands of enemy railcars, and even sank an enemy destroyer.
The massive successes of the more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen led to the integration of the Armed Forces after the war and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the first black Amy Air Force pilots, became the first African-American general of the newly-created U.S. Air Force.
The Original Grubhub.
4. The Berlin Airlift – Cold War
The first battle in the ideological war that pit Western Capitalism against Eastern Communism wasn’t fought with guns or bombs, it was fought with food. After WWII, Berlin was divided into four zones, each administered by one of the victorious European Allies. The area surrounding the city was entirely Soviet-dominated. The German capital was, effectively, nestled deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany. As Cold War tensions mounted, the USSR cut off all land routes to the Western-occupied parts of the city in an effort to starve out the capitalist allies. Any help to Berlin could only come through a dedicated air corridor.
In the days before massive cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy, the U.S. Air Force and the Western Allies launched what became known as the Berlin Airlift, a massive coordinated cargo hauling campaign that (at its height) saw an aircraft land in Berlin every single minute. German ground crews were soon able to unload an aircraft within 20 minutes in order to make sure the city was nurtured with the 394,509 tons of food, coal, and other supplies the city would need to survive the almost year-long Soviet siege of the city.
5. MiG Alley – Korean War
During the Korean War, the Air Force was again put to the test. The Nazis developed jet-powered fighters by the end of World War II, but even then, it was an imperfect technology. By the time the Korean War saw Communist forces engage the United Nations Coalition on the Korean Peninsula, both sides were still flying propeller driven aircraft. That soon changed. As the war ground on through December of 1950, the United States still had no jet-powered answer to the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter.
Then, finally, came the F-86 Sabre. The swept-wing design and the skill of UN and American pilots were able to make short work of MiG-15 fighters. In the infamous “MiG Alley” – the Northern area of North Korea, near its border with China – where Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean fighters waited at high altitudes to come down raining death on UN fighters, featured massive jet vs. jet air battles. Air Force F-86 pilots had a stunning 10-1 kill ratio.
Robin Olds is the reason for the Air Force’s “Mustache March” tradition.
6. Operation Bolo – Vietnam War
The early days of the air war over Vietnam didn’t go so well for the USAF. The Vietnam War’s kill ratio is a dismal but disputed 2-1. Air Force sorties coming to the landward side of Vietnam from bases in Thailand were picked up by superior North Vietnamese early warning radar and intercepting Communist planes were able to wait for the incoming Air Force planes. Once inside North Vietnam, Air Force pilots had only their eyes to help guide them. Air Force pilots would always end up on the defensive against skilled North Vietnamese pilots and surface-to-air missile batteries.
Air Force legend and triple ace Robin Olds devised a way to take advantage of the increasing boldness of Vietnamese pilots. In “Bolo,” Olds created what looked like a standard USAF F-105 bombing run to North Vietnam’s radar. Enemy MiG-21s made a beeline for what they thought were the usual F-105 Thunderchief bombers only to find Olds and his fleet of F-4 Phantoms ready for air-to-air combat. Without suffering a single loss, the Air Force downed seven enemy MiG-21s, changing the way the Air Force fought in the air. In the weeks that followed, North Vietnam lost half of its combat planes to U.S. airmen.
Behold: The reason the movie “Jarhead” has no climactic battle scenes.
(U.S. Air Force)
7. Operation Desert Storm
The air war of Operation Desert Stom was one of the most massive and successful air campaigns ever. Since Coalition aircraft could roam the skies in the region virtually unopposed. The buildup of men, materiel, equipment, and aircraft was one of the largest airlift operations in military history (even bigger than the Berlin Airlift). By the time the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went, the U.S. Air Force was more than ready to take the initiative.
Starting Jan. 17, 1991, the Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties against Iraqi targets and dropped more than 88,000 tons of ordnance. Like a modern-day Noah’s Ark story, the Air Force pummeled Iraq for some 40 days and 40 nights. After the U.S. Air Force smashed some 38 Iraqi aircraft, those pilots still in the air fled to Iran (who they just finished an eight-year war with) rather than face the U.S. Air Force in combat. The Gulf War ended in Iraqi defeat on Feb. 23, 1991.
Weaver passed out. He and Jim Zwayer, the flight test specialist, continued to fly through the air, propelled by their own inertia at hundreds of miles an hour. Weaver passed out before the plane even broke apart.
When he woke up, he was flying through the sky high above the earth. Initially, he thought he was dreaming, then he realized that it wasn’t a dream so he must be dead. And finally realized that he was neither dead nor dreaming.
A layer of ice covered his visor, but he could tell he wasn’t tumbling so the stabilization chute must have deployed. His emergency oxygen tank had functioned as well, inflating his suit to compress his blood and feed him breathable air.
As Weaver reached for his main chute, it deployed on its own. He got his frozen face plate open and was able to spot Zwayer who he would later learn had died.
He landed a few miles from the wreckage of his burnt up plane and collapsed his chute, preparing for a long night in the freezing winter weather of the desert. Then he heard a voice asking, “Can I help you?”
Turns out, Weaver had landed on a large ranch, and the owner had flown his helicopter to go check out the wreckage that had just crashed on his land.
Weaver later learned that the straps from his seat were still fully attached to him, but the ejection seat had stayed with the plane. When the plane broke apart, the entire cockpit, including Weaver’s seat, had broken up around him as his seat belt and harness continued to hold on to him.
The thing that saved him was the pressurized suit which had acted like a tiny escape capsule. An inspection of that suit revealed that one of the oxygen canisters had broken off, nearly removing what little protection Weaver had during his flight through the air at multiple times the speed of sound.
Weaver placed a collect call to Lockheed, letting the crew in the control area know that he had survived and surprising many of them. Weaver got behind the controls of another SR-71 only two weeks later.
The Coast Guard isn’t the most highly respected branches of the Armed Forces, to put it lightly. For all the flak it gets from other branches, the Coast Guard has solidly established its value to the US. In fact, it has one of the lengthiest histories of all.
The Coast Guard is among the oldest federal organizations in the US
It was established back in 1790, just 14 years after America gained independence. For eight years, it reigned supreme as the US’s only sea-based service. At that point, the Navy was invented, but the CG was far from finished.
On January 28th, 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged into one; the new, official Coast Guard. As described by Title 14 of the U.S. Code:
“The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”
It has played a role in nearly every war since.
Is it a military force or a law enforcement branch? Yes.
Despite being over a century old, the Coast Guard is the most misunderstood branches. It’s actually a two for one deal. Most of the time, it functions as an arm of Homeland Security and a marine rescue agency. Members are also responsible for guarding marine wildlife, environmental protection, and enforcing the law all across the country’s coastline.
During times of war, however, it becomes an extension of the Navy, to assist against foreign threats as directed by the President.
To be more specific, the Coast Guard…
Is responsible for enforcing the law across all U.S. ports and waterways
Protects over 100,000 miles of coastline
Mans a fleet of hundred of cutters and aircraft, plus over 1,600 boats
Conducts around 45 search and rescues a day
Seizes thousands of pounds of illegal drugs each week
Screens over 350 merchant vessels before arrival in U.S. harbors
Investigates pollution incidents
Maintains buoys and other navigation aids
Investigates commercial vessel casualties
Makes the shipping of billions of dollars worth of goods possible
In short, the Coast Guard is pretty frickin’ cool.
In addition to celebrating its 106th official birthday (and its 231st if you count its earliest years), the Coast Guard has churned out some awesome vets. Jeff Bridges, Arnold Palmer, and even Popeye were coasties! It also has a frat that used to be called the Ancient Order of Pterodactyl. It was renamed to the Coast Guard Aviation Association in 2007. Not quite as catchy, but still cool.
More importantly, 10 lives every day are saved by members of the Coast Guard. Happy birthday, guys. You’re doing awesome.
Few units receive their nicknames from their exploits in combat. Even fewer derive their moniker from what the enemy calls them. But for the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of paratroopers that is exactly what happened in Italy in 1944.
The 504th first met the Germans in Sicily, along with the rest of the 82nd Airborne Division, during Operation Husky. It was there that the Germans and Italians first discovered that the American Paratrooper was a uniquely dangerous man.
The 504th next took part in the invasion of mainland Sicily.
Initial elements of the regiment to go into action were from the 3rd Battalion, who landed by sea with the Rangers at Maiori in the opening move of Operation Avalanche. Two days later the balance of the 3rd Battalion, along with the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, were diverted to the Salerno beachhead itself when the situation there became tenuous.
Resisting a strong German counterattack on the high ground near Altavilla, Col. Tucker, the regimental commander, exemplified the unit’s fighting spirit.
Facing the prospect of being overrun, Gen. Dawley, the VI Corps commander, called Tucker and told him to retreat. Tucker was having none of it and sternly replied “Retreat, Hell! Send me my other battalion!”
Joined by the 3rd Battalion, the 504th held the line and helped to save the beachhead. The 504th would fight on through Central Italy while the remainder of the division returned to England in preparation of the upcoming Normandy landings. The regiment was finally pulled back from the lines on Jan. 4, 1944 in anticipation of another parachute mission.
Their next mission would be part of Operation Shingle in late January 1944. This was another Allied amphibious assault on the Italian coast, this time at the port of Anzio, aimed at getting behind the formidable German defensive lines there were impeding progress from the south.
Initial planning had the 504th jumping ahead of the invasion force to seize the Anzio-Albano road near Aprilia. This plan was scrapped at the last minute as prior experience, and the likelihood of tipped-off Germans, said it was too risky. Instead the 504th, now a Regimental Combat Team, would land abreast the 3rd Infantry Division to the south of Anzio. The initial landing seemed to have caught the Germans completely off guard and the Allies went ashore nearly uncontested. The easy advance would not last long.
Soon the 504th found itself engaged all across the lines as its battalions were sent to augment other units. As German counterattacks looked to drive the Allies back into the sea, the casualties rose.
The 3rd Battalion found itself fighting alongside the British 1st Infantry Division in some of the heaviest fighting at Anzio. The paratroopers took a beating from the Germans but kept up the fight. Most companies could only muster the equivalent of an understrength platoon – some 20 to 30 men.
For their part in the heavy fighting of Feb. 8 – 12, the 3rd Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. The paratroopers weren’t out of the fight yet, though. They continued to hold the line and harass the Germans.
The situation turned into one of static warfare with trenches, barbed wire, and minefields between the two sides. The paratroopers though were loath to fight a defensive battle and maintained a strong presence of patrols in their sector.
“American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”
The baggy pants referred to the paratroopers’ uniforms, which differed greatly from the regular infantry whose pants were “straight legged.”
The men of the 504th were so enthralled with the German officer’s words that they christened themselves the Devils in Baggy Pants – a nickname they carry to this day.
The Devils in Baggy Pants would eventually be pulled off the line in Italy towards the end of March 1944. However, when they arrived in England to rejoin the 82nd Airborne Division for the jump into Normandy, they were saddened by the news. Due to the high level of casualties and insufficient replacements they would not be making the jump.
The Devils would next meet the Germans in Holland, then at the Bulge, before making it all the way to Berlin.
The reign of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or USSR) came to a screeching halt in 1991. After 68 years of reign, the collective of socialist countries were dissolved and reformed into new borders and republic entities.
This month, we look back on the August Coup, when Soviet Communists failed their takeover, and eventually, to the dissolution to the Soviet Union as a whole.
Take a look at the best memes we found commemorating this important event in world history.
Visiting France for the first time as an 18-year-old from the Midwest was a trip I will always treasure. After spending several days in and around London. I was ready to put my high school French to the test, and immerse myself in the French culture. I traveled by train from London to the southern coast to board a ferry to Northern France.
As the ferry got further away from the English coastline, the gray skies began to clear and I could see France in the distance. There was a subtle breeze blowing across the English Channel, which created a serine feeling. When the ferry slowed, signaling the final moments of the ride. I gazed at the beauty before my eyes. The lush green fields and trees on top of the slopes leading onto the beaches looked like a slice of heaven.
My first few steps in France were ushered in by the smell of freshly cut flowers being sold on the street. It was only a matter of minutes before the pastel hues of the flowers and landscape revealed their inspiration for the birthplace of Impressionism. For a moment, I felt I had been transported into a Manet painting.
Turning back around to look at the English Channel, I was overcome with an eerie stillness. It had been 55 years since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.
There were two contrasting French coasts viewed by an 18-year-old in 1999, and an 18-year-old in June of 1944. In those waters off the French coast, thousands of Americans boarded transporters that resembled an open-air commercial sized dumpster on water. There were young men from every corner of the country, split between the transport boats. On some of those small boats there were 18-year-old boys, who had never traveled far from home until that moment.
It’s likely they weren’t focused on the beautiful scenery they were about to disembark upon. Their final thoughts before stepping down the ramp into the choppy waters of the Channel weren’t of eager anticipation to sample the French cuisine, or leisurely strolls through street markets of small French villages. They were of their families back home, who were unaware of the impending horror their loved ones were about to endure, or unaware that by the end of the day, history would change course. Within hours, thousands of American families would be forever changed. Sons, brothers, husbands and fathers would meet their destiny on the shores of Northern France.
At the top of those slopes leading to the beach, Nazi forces opened fire on the thousands of Allied forces storming the beaches. Suddenly, dreams of owning a home or business paled in comparison to the hope of surviving long enough to feel the grass beneath their feet as they continued the bloody campaign inland.
For the American GI’s lucky enough to survive long enough to reach the sandy beaches. The water washing ashore was bright red. It became impossible to tell if the blood shed by Allied forces had overtaken the waters of the Channel.
If a famous Impressionist artist like Cezanne were to capture the moment in a painting, the landscape in the artwork would be void of any gentle pastels. Instead, grey, brown and red would capture the ominousness of the harrowing invasion.
Before the horror besieging the shores, the dark, early morning sky was littered with planes depositing thousands of American paratroopers scattered throughout Normandy. Many planes were shot from the sky as paratroopers leaped from them. Some blasts were so violent they knocked weapons out of the paratroopers’ possession. For those who landed safely on the ground, many found themselves alone in a foreign and hostile land. As they dodged German fighters, paratroopers began to link up to form a stronger offensive force.
The invasion took years to plan, and careful coordination between American, British and Canadian forces comprised of over 150,000 troops. Among the 150,000 troops, 14 Comanche “code-talkers” relayed critical messages in their Native American tongue, which German forces were unable to translate.
By the end of June 6,1944, the Germans had been bombarded by air, land and sea from Allied forces. The Atlantic theater began to shift from Nazi control of Europe to a liberated Western Europe. More than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion.
The success of D-Day was the turning point, and beginning of the end for the Nazis.
In the 76 years since D-Day, millions of people have blissfully explored the rich history, beauty and diverse cultures of Europe. It was the bravery and sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of Allied forces on D-Day that helped save the world.
I was privileged to experience all the beauty Europe offers as an 18-year-old, because thousands of 18-year-olds on June 6, 1944 had the courage to face evil directly in the face.
Winston Churchill summarized it best, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
In late 1944, German Pvt. Paul-Alfred Stoob was one of the many German troops quickly retreating from Allied forces. During his withdrawal, he was hit with fire from a Sherman tank and wounded in his head and leg. When he finally made it home to Germany, he learned that his father was also wounded in his head and leg in the exact same town in World War I.
Stoob was a Panther tank driver taking part in the general German withdrawal in 1944 before the Battle of the Bulge temporarily halted Germany’s loss in territory. After the Panther was destroyed by Allied fire, Stoob and the rest of his crew stole a truck and headed east towards Belgium.
They managed to scrape together bread and some eggs before lucking out and discovering a stash of delicacies abandoned by a German headquarters unit. Only a short time after they filled their truck with the fresh food, an American Sherman crew spotted them and opened fire. Stoob was hit in the head and leg, but still tried to escape.
He made for a nearby cemetery and attempted to use the gravestones as cover for his escape. Before he could get away, a French priest begged for him to stop and then went and got an American medic to tend to his wounds.
Stoob spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in the U.S. and didn’t make it home until 1947. That was when he learned that his father, a veteran of World War I, had been wounded in the same unnamed village in 1914, exactly 30 years before his son.
Alaska is still considered the last frontier, even in today’s modern times. The unforgiving and extreme weather coupled with the rough terrain makes it a challenging place to live. One hundred years ago – during the Spanish Flu – it was even more deadly.
The world is very familiar with the new words in our daily vocabulary: quarantine, face mask and social distancing, thanks to COVID-19 and the current global pandemic. Just 100 years ago this was the case as well, during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu. The big difference between then and now are the extreme advancements in technology and medical care. According to the CDC, 500 million people were positive and 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu.
In a wild place like Alaska with scarce medical care, it was a sure death sentence.
When the Spanish Flu arrived in Alaska during the spring of 1919, it wiped out villages – and fast. World War I had just ended and on May 26, 1919, the USS Unalga was patrolling around the Aleutian Islands, near Akun Island located in Seredka Bay. The crew and ship were still technically considered part of the Navy, with the war only ending shortly before that. Their role in that moment was law enforcement, inspection, mail transport and rescues. They were also a floating court and were able to give medical care to those in need.
After a full day of training, the crew was resting when they received a distress call from a newer settlement on Unalaska Island. They reported a severe outbreak of the Spanish Flu. The Coast Guard didn’t hesitate; they planned to get underway at dawn. Although they would receive another distress call from a settlement in Bristol Bay, the captain made the decision to head to Unalaska Island first.
When the crew made their way off the ship, they were shocked. It was if the entirety of the settlement had been infected with the Spanish Flu, the doctor included. They also discovered that all but one operator of the small U.S. Navy radio station had it as well. The coastie crew of the USS Unalga was their last hope of survival.
With that, the 80 coasties dove in. Pharmacist’s Mate First Class E.S. Chase, Lieutenant Junior Grade Dr. F.H. Johnson and Lieutenant E.W. Scott (a dentist), were the only men on board with advanced medical training. Despite that, they were all in. For over a week they were the only resource of support for Unalaska with nothing but cloth masks to protect themselves.
The captain made the decision to utilize the food on board to feed the entire town. At one point, they were providing up to 1,000 meals a day. The coasties even built a temporary hospital with pumping and electricity that was powered through the ship’s own power plant.
Without the proper protective equipment that today we know is critical, many of the crew fell ill themselves, including the captain. Despite this, they charged on and continued working. Although the 80 coasties fought to save everyone, they did bury 45 villagers who succumbed to the Spanish Flu.
The crew was not only caring for the ill, but for the children of those who died because the orphanage became full. Without their willingness to step forward, the children were at risk of dying from starvation, the elements and even documented feral dogs that were roaming the island. Some of the crew even made clothing for the children.
On June 3, 1919, the Coast Guard Cutter arrived to support their efforts. With both crews nursing and caring for the sick, recovery began. Due to the dedication of these coasties, the mortality rate of the village was only 12 percent. The majority of Alaska was at 90 percent mortality. At the end of the Spanish flu, around 3,000 Alaskans lost their lives, most of them natives.
Thanks to these coasties, this village was spared that fate.
We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.
But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.
Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.
The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.
The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.
The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.
The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.
The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.
Every elite special operations group has its own storied rite of passage. Navy SEALs undergo a simulated drowning. Green Berets drink snake blood. North Korean special operators do whatever the hell this is.
Such rituals have been an important component in warrior cultures for centuries, and the famed citizen-soldiers of ancient Sparta are no exception. The Spartan are often viewed as among history’s most elite warriors, with a culture built to breed and groom the perfect fighting force. Rank-and-file Spartans were trained since birth to be strong, loyal, and ruthless fighters. But a select few were singled out to join the Krypteia — the closest thing the Spartans had to ‘special operators.’
Scholars believe that the Krypteia served as the Spartans’ reconnaissance soldiers, shock troops, and even military police. As such, their loyalty and commitment to the state was just as important as their skill at arms. And just like today’s special operators, the Krypteia had their own initiation ritual. It’s believed that in order to complete their training, candidates had to ambush and murder a Helot — a member of the Spartan servant class. Only then, could they prove their willingness to kill in the name of the state.
While everyone likes to talk about how scary the Spartans or Romans could be, it was the Mongols who pioneered new warfare tactics, used them to win battle after battle, and survived on a diet of horse blood and liquor to ride across whatever terrain they needed to in order to murder you.
The Mongols, made most famous by Genghis Khan after he established an empire in 1206, were centered in the steppes of central Asia. The empire would eventually cover over 9 million square miles, making it the largest land empire in world history.
Mongols during the Siege of Vladimir
Mongol success was due to a number of factors. They could be ruthless, allowing them to press the attack when most would back off. They had a good division of labor, with women taking on many camp and political duties while the men did the bulk of the fighting with few distractions. And their societal ties to horses made them highly mobile. So highly mobile that, in battle, they were some of the pioneers of “localized superiority of numbers,” a force concentration strategy where a smaller force could dominate a larger one by outnumbering the larger force at key points.
Basically, it doesn’t matter if you have three times the forces in the region if I have three times the forces at the objective — my team’s horses allow us to quickly hit objective after objective while your marching brethren are still plodding along the roads.
Mongol horsemen fighting Chinese forces.
In one case in 1223, two of Genghis Khan’s lieutenants were riding with 20,000 men against 80,000 Russian troops. The horsemen conducted a controlled withdrawal, and the Russians pursued sloppily, allowing their column to get stretched out. After a week, the Russians were split up and the horsemen turned around, slamming their 20,000 troops against a couple thousands Russians at a time. The Mongols won handily, using bows and lances to kill Russian after Russian.
But as the Mongol Empire went to expand, the terrain began to limit them. Horse armies are perfect for traversing grasslands covered in animals, and are even good for mountains and forests, but trying to cross the most sparse parts of Asia was near impossible. The horde could face days of hard riding with barely enough food to sustain a few horsemen, let alone the 20,000 or more in the horde.
For instance, the 1223 attack against Russian forces required that the Mongols cross miles and miles of grasslands for days. They carried dried horse milk, dried meat, dried curds. Sure, it doesn’t sound appealing, but it could keep you going on the march.
But that would only buy the Mongols a few days. Since they also liked getting drunk, they usually carried horse liquor, which packed a lot of calories for relatively little weight. So, yeah, when the Mongol Horde rode out of the mists to slaughter you, they were drunk on horse when they did it.
Mongol archers were some of the best in the world, and they could easily do their jobs from horseback.
But for even longer rides, famed explorer Marco Polo said things took a turn for the darker. See, the horsemen would get almost no sustenance from eating grass. It passes through the human digestion system while leaving almost no calories or nutrients behind.
But horses can eat grass just fine; it’s one of their primary foods. And so, in a pinch, the Mongols would cut a vein in their horse’s necks at the end of every day, taking a few swallows of blood that the horse could easily replace. It wasn’t much, but it allowed them to cross the grasses to the west and hit Russia and additional empires.
On the even darker side, they also allegedly ate human flesh when necessary. Even killing the attached human if horses and already-dead people were in short supply. So, you know, the Mongols were the monsters you heard about in history. But they were also tactical masterminds who embraced technology and strategy.
Let’s get one thing out of the way really quickly: Getting captured in full-scale warfare is nothing to be ashamed of. When tens of thousands of people are clashing in a massive battle, it’s easy to get cut off and isolated through no fault of your own, shot down over enemy territory, or any of dozens of other ways to get captured. But that means you were headed to a prisoner camp, and where you were captured and by whom mattered a lot in World War II.
That’s because not all of the major combatants were yet signatories to the Geneva Conventions, and life as a prisoner wasn’t great for even those who were covered by the conventions.
That’s because Geneva Convention protections are actually fairly limited, and were even more so in World War II. The broad strokes are that captors must not execute those who have surrendered or are surrendering; must give sufficient food, shelter, and medical care away from active combat; cannot torture prisoners, and must not overwork prisoners.
The U.S. fulfilled all of these requirements in their prisoner camps on the U.S. mainland, and Britain and France had similarly good records of prisoner treatment during the war. Not perfect, but good. (But it’s worth noting that the U.S. and Britain were both accused of human rights violations against their own citizens and some war crimes including the execution of Axis soldiers who were attempting to surrender.)
Recently liberated Allied soldiers in a prison corridor in Changi Prison, Singapore.
(State Library of Victoria Collections)
But not all prisons were run that way. German prisons were more strict, had more reports of beatings and food shortages, and some prisoners were executed for political reasons as the war drew to an end. But the worst German atrocities were those committed against suspected commandos, Jews, or people’s designated undesirable by the German state.
If a U.S. or other Allied soldier was suspected of being Jewish, gay, or of some other category that would’ve gotten a German or Polish person thrown into a concentration camp, then that soldier would likely be thrown into a concentration camp themselves. There, they would be subject to all the atrocities of the Holocaust, including summary execution as the Germans tried to hide evidence of their crimes at war’s end.
And some prisoners were subjected to the same unethical medical experiments that the Nazis famously performed on Jewish prisoners.
That may sound like the worst a World War II prisoner could suffer, but there were similar nightmares in store for certain prisoners of the Soviet Union. Food shortages for the Soviet Army led to forced labor of some prisoners. And the deep hatred of Soviet troops toward German invaders led to summary executions and torture. Food was scarce and could be made from inedible ingredients like straw or sawdust.
But arguably, the worst place to be captured was in the Pacific while fighting Japan. Japanese forces were convicted after the war of forced death marches like the five-day ordeal that many Americans and Filipinos captured on the Bataan Peninsula were forced to suffer without water or food. Other Japanese leaders were convicted of cannibalism after butchering Americans for meat used as a delicacy on officer tables. Torture, beatings, executions, and more were common in Japanese camps.